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Making motivation personal

March 1, 2007
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LTC staffers enjoy a unique position in our society. Regardless of specific job or daily responsibilities, each of us impacts the life and well-being of those entrusted to our care. Few professions offer such dramatic possibilities for personal satisfaction in the day-to-day discharge of duties. Surely, many of our people chose to work in the long-term care (LTC) field because they wanted to make a difference in people's lives. How unfortunate, therefore, that many LTC workers are demotivated by tedious regulations and compliance procedures, cost/reimbursement issues and patient care–related difficulties.

What can—and should—we do to motivate our “people resources” so they en-joy personal satisfaction and professional success?

Conventional management wisdom tells us that you can’t motivate another person. You can, however, create the conditions in which an individual can motivate him/herself. Fortunately, you don’t need an advanced degree in management to do this! Use common sense, approach each situation with flexibility/patience and, perhaps most importantly, be willing to listen to the “music behind the words.” Here are five practical suggestions:

  1. Because what motivates you may not motivate your employees, it's your responsibility to find out what does. Take the time to list three or four things that you believe motivate each of your employees. Ask each one to create a similar list, taking care that staffers recognize that adjusting your institution's policies or cutting back on government regulations is not possible. Compare your answers and hold one-on-one meetings to discuss any gaps and to get to know each person better, and then tailor your style accordingly. Although it may not seem important to you, research has shown that employees are motivated by sincere care and concern. It's up to you to approach each staffer with an open mind and make a genuine attempt to determine what matters to him/her. Based on your discussions, make a note of how you will modify your approach with each employee. Active communication takes time and attention, and is well worth the results.

  2. Work with each employee to ensure that these motivational factors are incorporated into your reward systems. For example, if an employee who lacks the requisite skills expresses a desire to play a greater role in patient care, think of how you can make the individual feel that he/she is participating in the process—possibly by explaining how a specific decision was reached, or by inviting him/her to observe certain meetings (provided confidentiality protocols are not breached). It is also appropriate to tell your staffer that specific training would enhance his/her career options and afford opportunities to take on additional responsibilities. Then, find ways to make it happen.

  3. Provide opportunities for growth and development. Today's healthcare industry offers many viable career options for those who are interested in taking the next professional step. Offer your staffers a chance to attend seminars, workshops, and field trips, or provide cross-training. Ask them what additional task might be performed as a learning tool (without jeopardizing day-to-day responsibilities or being considered a burden). The key is to find developmental opportunities that reflect the employee's interests.

  4. Recognize, reward, and appreciate good work. If budgets are tight, consider nonmonetary rewards or low-cost tokens of acknowledgment. Small rewards go a long way. First, never underestimate the power of “thank you.” As we’ve noted, since many LTC workers joined the industry to help others, acknowledge them when you personally observe, or are told about, an instance of extra service. Keep your eyes and ears open so you know when someone goes above and beyond the job description, and offer praise promptly. Does your organization have a facility-wide recognition program? If not, consider forming a committee to implement one. At the very least, put a program in place for your own team, within the confines of your culture. Here are some quick and easy suggestions:

    • Create an “extra-miler club.” A staffer who goes the extra mile receives a card from the coworker or supervisor who benefits from the action. Collect the bottom portion of these cards each month {or quarter) from recipients, hold a drawing, and give a low-cost prize to the winner. Post the winner's name and action in a conspicuous place. You can also ask your staffers to design the extra-mile card, with the team choosing the winning entry.

    • Set up an Employee of the Year (or similar) program, with input from your staff. Make sure that all employees understand the ground rules and, equally important, ensure that the staffer chosen as Employee of the Year is acknowledged by top management.

    • Celebrate small steps by sending a short, handwritten note to the employee's home when someone goes above and beyond. The time and personalization will be appreciated by the recipient, and you can be sure your other staff members will be told about this gesture.